DBB on 3: Grading the offseason, so far

Detroit Bad Boys

A Detroit Pistons offseason that began with an extended courting of former Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams has continued through free agency and the NBA Draft. Detroit has been busy, but maybe not in the ways that some fans expected.

The DBB crew looked at each phase of the offseason and awarded grades:

1. We’ll start at the NBA Draft, where the Detroit Pistons selected Ausar Thompson at No. 5 before trading up to nab Marcus Sasser with the No. 25 pick. With time to look at the class and see it in action at the Las Vegas Summer League, what is your early grade on it?

Lazarus Jackson: It looks like a solid B draft class to me. I liked selecting both Ausar and Sasser at the time, and neither has done anything to make me regret that yet. There were some interesting names taken after Sasser (Leonard Miller and Julian Strawther, in particular) that I would have considered, and despite drafting Ausar the Pistons still don’t have enough wing depth, but I think both selections end up working well for the Pistons. I’m gonna love watching Ausar play, but he’s not going to play 25+ minutes a night for this team if they are pushing to win games, sadly.

Ben Gulker: My way too early take is that neither player is likely to make a significant impact during their rookie season, but Thompson’s flashes have been a lot of fun. And he sure says all of the right things about putting in the work. If his walk matches talk, maybe he proves me wrong. I take summer league with a massive grain of salt, so I will say B- overall.

Brady Fredericksen: I’ll give it a B. I’ve been extremely impressed by Ausar Thompson in summer league. His athleticism is as advertised, and his feel for the game and vision are so impressive. The defense is NBA-ready and, though the jumper is still inconsistent, I can see how he’ll help Detroit once the regular season begins. Marcus Sasser has been a bit of a bummer in Vegas. I see the intangibles and the hard-nosed play. He’s disruptive defensively and makes plays. I know it’s summer league and it means nothing, but seeing Sasser is sporting a shooting split of 32/16/55 in three games, which even Killian Hayes probably thinks is abysmal. He’s better than this, but I’m glad he won’t be relied upon from the start.

Justin Lambregetse: I was not a huge Ausar fan heading into the draft. It wasn’t just because of the uncertainty around the competition at OTE, but I just didn’t think there would ever be much there offensively. After a few Summer League games, I was wrong. Even if the shot doesn’t come around his defense and connecting qualities on offfense will be able to contribute to winning. For Sasser, the shooting has been disappointing, which is supposed to be his calling card. I’ll withhold judgment until I get to see more.

Wes Davenport: I’m going to stick with my post-draft grade, B-. I wasn’t all that excited with the Ausar pick but loved that they added a 3&D guard like Sasser at the end of the 1st round. Two Summer League games are not enough to change any opinions here. I will say that Ausar has looked promising, his defensive quickness, activity without the ball, and ability to make an impact without having plays drawn up for him have stood out. And while Sasser has struggled to make shots, he is getting good looks and has far too much history as an elite shooter to let those misses concern me.

Kyle Metz: B+. Taking the highest upside guy with elite athleticism and good/great feel for the game is a solid draft strategy. I never expected Detroit to stay at #31, and trading up seemed like the most likely option. I personally would’ve preferred to get more future draft assets for this pick, but Sasser is a really nice consolation. Both of these picks could give Troy more confidence to trade Alec Burks or Bojan Bogdanovic at some point this summer or before the trade deadline, depending on how they look early on.

Blake Silverman: A solid B+. I may have been higher on Ausar than others at the time of the draft. I even felt that if both Thompson twins were on the board at No. 5, the Pistons may have been better off selecting Ausar over Amen due to being more of a wing presence, as well as Amen thriving as a lead-ball handler. I was also a fan of trading back into the first-round to grab Sasser. Selecting him in the first round allows Detroit to sign him to a rookie-scale deal with two guaranteed years, and team options in years three and four. If the Pistons stood pat at No. 31 and Sasser fell into their lap, they wouldn’t assure him of two guaranteed seasons immediately, unless those years ended up being guaranteed in his contract. The new CBA involves an exception where second-round picks can sign for up to four years, but I still see value in moving up to the first for Sasser, mainly as a vote of confidence for the young guard. Sasser’s Summer League performance hasn’t been nearly as good as Thompson’s, but I always saw him as one of the more NBA-ready prospects in this year’s class.

2. Free agency came and went with a whimper as Detroit traded cash to the Brooklyn Nets for sharpshooter Joe Harris and a couple second round picks and grabbed Monte Morris. With their cap space limited, the only other major move the Pistons made was inking big man Isaiah Stewart to a 3-year, $60 million extension. What’s your grade for the free agency portion of the off-season?

Lazarus Jackson: I’m torn. I don’t think the offseason made the team much better, the roster is still wonky (again, not enough wing depth), and it certainly seems like the trend of overspending for “Troy Weaver Guys” is not slowing (we can say the Stewart extension is an overpay based on what he’s shown so far as an NBA player AND that, at 22 years old and the cap going up, there’s a decent chance Stew is underpaid on that contract by year 3).

On the other hand, they DO still have a lot of flexibility to reshape the roster (with a lot of projected cap space next offseason and the contracts to be in a lot of different trade talks). They haven’t made long-term commitments to players I don’t think belong (James Wiseman: Extension Eligible!). They didn’t overspend on any talented-but-flawed free agents from this year’s class. Monte Morris should legitimately help this team play better basketball, and if Joe Harris has anything left in the tank (an open question) the Pistons definitely need the floor spacing he can provide.

I would give the Pistons a C- for this offseason. They didn’t do anything BAD, but they didn’t do anything markedly helpful either.

Ben Gulker: C+. I am honestly thrilled Weaver didn’t throw big money at any of the names the Pistons were linked to this summer that in my opinion wouldn’t have made the impact the dollars would have suggested, and I have no problem taking on Harris for a season to roll that flexibility into next season.

Bidding against himself for Stewart is kinda strange isn’t it? Even as a Beef Stew connoisseur, I can’t say he’s earned that contract on the court yet, so hopefully the brass has great intel on Stew’s development we fans don’t see yet that justifies avoiding restricted free agency altogether.

The biggest win is addition by subtraction. Monty Williams won’t have to play Killian Hayes at all, which could be worth a win or two all by itself.

Brady Fredericksen: It’s a C. I like the value in acquiring Joe Harris and picks for nothing, but I don’t think Joe is good enough at the non-shooting things to really help much. Sure, he’ll have a few games where he cans 5-6 triples and it helps them win, but more often than not, he’ll be a defensive liability who doesn’t bring anything else to the table. Monte Morris I love, always have, and I think he’ll be a perfectly steadying presence as the team learns the Monty Williams system. And as for Stew, I think the extension is fair. He shot 36% from 3 last year before injuring his shoulder. I think he can do that for a full season. If he did it this year and they didn’t sign him to an extension, he’s probably commanding $20M a year in restricted free agency. I’m still on Stew Island, man.

Justin Lambregetse: I will say a B. I don’t think any free agent they could have realistically signed would have any more of an impact on their record than the addiction of Harris and Morris. It’s definitely boring, but this rebuild ultimately hinges on the young guys making the jump and splurging on free agency would not have changed that. Even if Harris is washed, his contract expires after this season and Morris is a clear upgrade at backup PG.

Wes Davenport: This is Monte Morris erasure! If we look at the incoming vs outgoing items for the Pistons trades this offseason, as of today…In: Harris, Morris, 2nd round pick; Out: Balsa Koprivica, cash. Just on pure value alone, that’s incredible. Harris is a sharpshooter and has been his entire career. For a team that absolutely needed to add shooting, Harris represents a big check-mark that came at no cost. Morris too, can shoot the ball well at good volume. And he has the added benefit of nearly never turning the ball over. There isn’t an argument to be made that the Pistons didn’t get better. Some might complain that they didn’t get better enough, which I am absolutely sympathetic to. But the fact of the matter is they did improve this roster while not shelling out any significant long-term salary, leaving the team’s level of improvement to fall on the shoulders of Cade, Ivey and maybe Duren — as it should be. Free Agency gets a B+ from me.

Kyle Metz: C+. This is the second summer in a row that Troy was able to add valuable rotation pieces by taking advantage of another team’s need to shed salary. Troy has received some well-deserved criticism for his propensity to sacrifice value on the altar of expediency and decisiveness. Likewise, he deserves some credit here for finding value on the margins and maintaining flexibility through patience, it’s boring, but being prudent often is. Stewart’s extension is fine and is yet another indicator that Troy wants to give him every opportunity to be the starting PF for this team, at least through this season. Even if he tops out as the first big off the bench, his $15M salary will still be around market value. Could Troy have saved an extra million or two? Sure. Does that matter at this stage in the restoration? Not really. Stewart is now locked into an affordable contract through the first years of Cade’s extension, Ivey and Duren’s extensions, and Ausar’s extension if the Pistons pick up his team option; that’s good cap management.

Blake Silverman: I’ll give them a B-. The Harris and Morris trades were a bit meh to me, but they do maintain flexibility in the future and bring in two good NBA players that can provide a veteran voice in the locker room and help rotations immediately. The only reason I bumped the free agency up to a B- from somewhere in the C range is because of the Stewart extension. I’m comfortable with the number and it gives Detroit its first homegrown talent that will stay for the long haul (barring any trades) in the Weaver era. The cap will likely increase the max amount it can year after year, so by the time that Detroit is ready to make a decision on Stewart’s fourth-year option, it can look minuscule on the books making that option all the more valuable. Stewart has more to prove on the court, but I’m comfortable in taking that chance at the number given.

3. Barring another trade or minor signing, the Pistons roster seems to be set. Do you think this team is tangibly better and, with the new acquisitions in mind, what are your overall expectations for this season?

Lazarus Jackson: Is this team tangibly better? Sure, but that’s mostly because we expect to see 65+ games of Cade Cunningham this year, not because of anything done this offseason. I really like Monte Morris, but I don’t think he’s worth, like, 5 wins by himself.

What are my expectations for the season? A meaningful step forward, record-wise. 30 wins is a realistic aspiration (not “they should win 30 games” but “they should be shooting to win 30 games”) for the team, in my mind. Washington’s presence should help Detroit not be the worst team in the conference again, but the Pistons should be scrapping it out with the other young, maybe-not-fully-ready-for-the-playoffs teams like Indiana and Orlando.

Ben Gulker: Vegas had this team at 28-29 wins prior to the season starting a year ago, which I thought was too close to call. I expect incremental improvement in terms of wins and losses, say 32-34, although if Monty has some secret sauce on defense that can get this team out of the bottom third, a bigger leap is possible. I expect the bigger improvement to be in overall competitiveness and watchability — much fewer huge blowouts, being in more games down the stretch, and hopefully the actual end of tanking.

Brady Fredericksen: They’re better, but they’re still not good. Adding Thompson is the big addition, whereas Morris, Harris, and Sasser are more complimentary. I think the roster is more balanced (I wish they had a more defensively flexible big forward) and there aren’t enough minutes for all of the legitimate guys. That’s good. It really comes down to Cade Cunningham, and secondarily Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren. If Cade makes a big jump, similar to the one Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has made in OKC, and those two avoid sophomore slumps, I can see Monty squeezing 30+ wins out of this team. But it’s all on Cade. He’s either a healthy, All-Star-type in year three or it’s another mostly-abysmal season.

Justin Lambregetse: Getting Cade Cunningham back already was going to make them better no matter what they did. I don’t think they team is drastically better, but if all the young guys get better, I could see them in the upper 20s and maybe low 30s for wins if everything breaks right. My expectations are that they are contending for a high lottery pick until they prove that they aren’t.

Wes Davenport: As I mentioned in the last answer, there really isn’t an argument that the team isn’t tangibly better as of this moment. They swapped Killian for Morris, the litany of backup wings for Harris and added an athletic defensive wing in the draft. There’s no player the caliber of Kevin Knox on this roster anymore. So yes, they got better. That being said, the improvement level will fall on the young guys’ development. That’s how it should be, but it clouds the crystal ball a bit. I want to see Cade healthy, Ivey take a step as a scorer and defender, Duren improve his rim protection, and Ausar establish that he can guard good wings while being a low-maintenance threat on offense. If they could pull out 27 or more wins next season I would be quite happy. And if you don’t believe me on “they got better”, just look at the roster and reflect. Last year was rough!

Kyle Metz: This team is at the very least positioned to be better and more fun to watch. I expect Monte Morris and Ausar to have the biggest impact of the newcomers. I think Ausar will help keep Cade out of foul trouble, making the team less reliant on other players to run the offense as often. There is depth at every position, giving the coaches more flexibility with lineups based on matchups and individual performances. While I’d like to see a consolidation trade to clean up some of the redundancies in the front court, there is also no reason to make a deal just to make it. Teams never play all 15 guys regularly and cleaning up the clutter in one position group will almost always create clutter in another. Fighting for a play-in spot should be this team’s goal, and I think that is a perfectly reasonable outcome for this roster. I predict they will end as the 12 seed, maybe 11th if Raptors decide to tear it down before the season starts.

Blake Silverman: The team’s success and an increase in win total will fully depend on the play of Cade Cunningham as he comes back from injury. The roster stayed more or less the same, with some definite rotational improvement. The role and play of Thompson will also have an impact, however I see more of a slow and steady ramp up as he gets used to the league. If Thompson can come in and make a case for All-Rookie, his addition could end up resulting in a few more wins. Overall, the Pistons have to be better than they were last year. I don’t think they will be a playoff team, but I do hope that they can make a stride forward in the win column. I’m targeting the new-look group somewhere in the 28-32 win range. This would be a strong step to put Detroit in a good spot to make a playoff push in future years.

As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

1. We’ll start at the NBA Draft, where the Detroit Pistons selected Ausar Thompson at No. 5 before trading up to nab Marcus Sasser with the No. 25 pick. With time to look at the class and see it in action at the Las Vegas Summer League, what is your early grade on it?

2. Free agency came and went with a whimper as Detroit traded cash to the Brooklyn Nets for sharpshooter Joe Harris and a couple second round picks as well as another deal for Monte Morris. With their cap space limited, the only other major move the Pistons made was inking big man Isaiah Stewart to a 3-year, $65 million extension. What’s your grade for the free agency portion of the off-season?

3. Barring another trade or minor signing, the Pistons roster seems to be set. Do you think this team is tangibly better and, with the new acquisitions in mind, what are your overall expectations for this season?

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